Webcomic Book Club Full Reviews
of Magic Inkwell Comic Strip Theatre by Cayetano "Cat" Garza

Magic Inkwell is...different. I'm not sure that's such a good thing, though.

Art: A lot of the strips concentrated on different layouts, as opposed to the actual art-I felt that a lot of images repeated, which became rather tiresome. There was, as Phantom Critic noted, a definite Krazy Kat feel to the whole thing-not just the character's appearance, but the desert and plateaus that often appeared. After a while, it started to feel stagnant, which only changed with the last few strips. Compared to the rest, they started to interest me again, and I'm sorry there weren't more of them.

Characters: There wasn't much in the way of characters. They were distinctive, yes, but almost all of them served to make a point, instead of developing on their own. I didn't mind this as much in the beginning, but after seeing the same characters over and over, I really wished they could speak for themselves.

Plot: There isn't one, really. This isn't quite a shortcoming for Magic Inkwell, though. The comics often have a message rather than a story-or the story is meant to give a message, anyway.

Writing: The most interesting part of Magic Inkwell, but the most flawed. To me, the comics were basically about the creator, and his musings on whatever struck him. This meant many of them were hit or miss, with more misses than hits. But when it worked, it worked quite well, and I felt like it was an honest conversation.

Overall: Magic Inkwell isn't a comic, so much as a presentation. The creator uses his works to say what he thinks and feels, with the characters as a medium for interpretation. On those grounds, I think that the presentation could be better. A lot of animation was used that I didn't think was necessary or helpful, and some of the layout ideas became "hide and seek" instead of being innovative. I give Magic Inkwell 5 out of 10; it's interesting and atypical (for which I give him a point, just for trying out new things), but I don't know if I want to keep reading.
Review by Benor Sun Sep 14 2003 09:59 AM

The yearning for true love and the pain of lost love.

Romanticizing the dream state, while in real life, scrounging to eke out an existence.

The quest to touch something deep in all readers--to create something new, something magical with the webcomics medium!!

But am I even an artist? And if so, am I good?

Or am I great? Dare I even ask such questions?

These are some of the recurring themes that swirl about in Mr. Garza's "Magic Inkwell Comic Strip Theatre"—a webcomic less about any particular cartoon character (though a certain Dingbat the cat serves as the beard) or telling any particular story, but more a series of cartoon reflections of the emotional and thematic concerns of the creator, Mr. Cayetano Garza.

This is one of the toughest webcomic reviews I've had to write because, while most of the individual "Inkwell" comic strips I wasn't crazy about (details forthcoming), for the few that worked, I really felt that I'd made a connection with the creator and have been given a private ticket into his soul.

Navigation & Technical Issues
Starting with the mundane but important issue of site navigation, I really hated the fact that there were no Next Buttons to navigate through the strips. Making matters worse, there was no numbering on the actual strip pages to indicate which cartoon I was currently on. Making matters still worse, there was no "visited link" color change on the archive spine to indicate which ones I'd read. So I wasted time constantly re-clicking on a strip I'd already read or accidentally skipping strips. Eventually I tried to keep track in my head of exactly which strip number I was on, but some added navigational buttons would make this a much smoother sailing experience for future readers.

Another annoying navigational issue involved an aesthetic conceit, presumably influenced by Scott McCloud's "infinite canvas" boosterism, that somehow it's better, more chichi, to scroll up and down, all around, and off the sides of the standard screen dimensions to read a webcomic. Most of the time this extra scrolling served no aesthetic purpose, and the content could easily have been displayed within a standard window or a single scrolling direction. On the occasional strip when the technique actually did seem to serve a purpose, the impact had already been diluted by using the effect too often as a cheap novelty device.

Also, external links need to be overhauled as several of the songs didn't load for me at all and some of the strips appeared to have missing images.

The artwork was very uneven. With so much experimentation going on, it's really difficult to make any kind of general statement about the art. The early strips were a mish-mash of styles (some too sketchy for my tastes), but by the final strips, it seemed like Mr. Gaza had developed some very nice line work and used colors to good effect.

There were a couple of strips that were specific homages to George Herriman's "Krazy Kat", but really, the whole look seemed like a pastiche of homages to Krazy Kat, Max Fleisher, Rene Magritte, Underground Comix, and assorted head shop stickers. There's nothing wrong with that; I love those too, but sometimes it felt like Mr. Garza was too much under the influence of his idols.

There was also an over-reliance on easily crafted GIF animations and Photoshop filter effects to represent the concept of "imagination". Those things can be fun to look at and are wonderful if used to enhance the story (a lá "Argon Zark!"), but in "Magic Inkwell" I felt I was often getting all candy sprinkles and no meal.

There was a lot of sappy, greeting card-style verse decorated with cute cartoon characters. While these sentiments can be beautiful if crafted as a gift for a specific individual, for a general reader like myself, I think a bit more is expected from a webcomic. I need more details in order to really feel that love Mr. Garza wants to express. I'd rather see Dingbat and the cat woman acting out real events (or fictionalized events) from Mr. Garza's own life, as opposed to some iconic representation of love.

I was even less enthused by the philosophical pieces regarding the medium itself. I realize that Scott McCloud was a big influence on Mr. Garza and all, but Garza doesn't really have the knack like McCloud does of linking idea to idea and tying things all together in a satisfying intellectual way. Instead, the "Inkwell" pieces came off as obvious, tiresome, and/or preachy.

Despite all my griping, there were several strips that hit the mark for me. They either made that necessary emotional connection or used visuals in clever way that actually complimented the piece. I'm Sorry, Red Rocket, As I Watch You Sleep, I Cant' Draw, and The Burning Question all captured for me some of the intended inkwell "magic". "The Burning Question" in particular stood out as a more epic, fully realized piece. It captured many of the recurring themes and took me on a journey inside the realms of Mr. Garza's fictional and real life in a truly satisfying way. It seemed to have just the right balance of surrealism, autobiography and emotional truth (and it had a nice narrative arc).

If I were to recommend the "Magic Inkwell" to someone, I'd say start with the strips listed above, and if you dig them, you may wish to sample the rest.
Review by The Phantom Critic Sat Sep 13 2003 02:00 PM

A review of Magic Inkwell Comic Strip Theatre
by Kajamir the Giant

Magic Inkwell Comic Strip Theatre is an unconventional comic featuring snippets of original poetry and basic wisdom as it's consecutive filler. The author claims it as an experiment inspired by Scott McCloud... but it's really up to the individual reader how well the experiment is, succeeding or flopping.

Magic Inkwell Comic Strip Theatre presents it's moments of thought through a uninspired looking character called Dingbat the Cat. Past him and occasionally a mouse who appears to play off, each new addition to the comic has relatively nothing to do with the previous one. As such, you can't read this straight on for a story like most of our previous selections but must take each strip as it is, like a new day of unexpected possibilities.

The very feel of this comic harkens me back to memories of things I've seen from my mother's collection of yesteryear. The art is kinda of variable, but largely seems reminiscent of the old newspaper comic, Krazy Kat. Meanwhile, the dispensements of written emotion felt more like something you might see in the 70's, alongside Zippy comics, Love Is, and Keep on Truckin' stickers. Seeing these things as somewhat familiar, but not specifically part of any fond experience of my own, I wasn't too enthused about the general style of things here. I also don't particularly care for personal poetry and the dreamy generic sounding wisdom. This content might be of more interest to those who can appreciate such.

Magic Inkwell Comic Strip Theatre isn't really my thing, truth be told. I didn't feel it had much to express to me at my age, nor was I caught up in the attempted beauty of the experiment. I leave with the impression it was probably trying too hard for the most part.

I give Magic Inkwell Comic Strip Theatre a 4 of 10 stars. It's not bad per se, but I didn't see much of anything to appreciate about it. I don't particularly recommend it therefore. The experiment is a little too pretenious for it's own good.
Review by Kajamir the Giant Fri Sep 12 2003 04:44 PM

As Luthorn said, this is not your typical webcomic. Therefore, it does not get your typical review.

I read through the entire archives in two sittings (took a break for dinner) and, well, it made little to no sense at first. Well, that's not entirely true. It made some degree of sense at first, sparking thoughts of, "Oh, this is going to be one of those comics." The kind that leave you sitting there wondering where the joke went and hid itself.

As I read on, however, it made even less sense. Of course, by the time I reached the strips requiring large amounts of scrolling, I began to realize that I was going about this all wrong. It was not the comic that made no sense, it was the way in which I was trying to read it. Looking back, some of the strips still make little sense, but a lot more of them click if I throw out my preconceptions about what a comic should be and do and is.

I don't think it will permanently change my way of living and experiencing comics, but it did make me think, and that is, after all, a noble and worthy end. By the end, I was really getting into it. I was hooked and a little disappointed.

And now to the portion resembling a typical review...

Art: The art wasn't the best in the world, but then, it didn't need to be. I felt that it fit very nicely with the story and the overall theme. I refer to both the drawn art and the organization of it upon the page. It made for an interactive experience, and one which I enjoyed. For all the good of it, however, parts of it just rubbed me the wrong way a little. I'm not sure why, but some of the strips just don't... click. Two for Three.

Character: There was only one real character and his reality was questionable, just like any person's. In a way, the narrator is the only character, and that's about as (sur)real as you can get. Three for Three.

Story: Was there one? Maybe, maybe not. The only plot seems to be that of the author himself. The only story is his own. I'm not about to judge a story like that against anything other than itself. Three for Three.

Overall: It was Magic Inkwell Comic Strip Theatre. It was a rather unique experience that I much enjoyed, despite (or because of) the hiccups here and there. It's one of those that makes you think and live and wish for more, or maybe it's just me. Nine for Ten.
Review by Xenix Mon Sep 08 2003 05:24 PM

Art: No complaints in this division, Magic Inkwell is an extremely surreal webcomic, filled with metaphors symbolism, and the cartoony style does an admirable job of portraying that. Perhaps others might prefer a more realistic type of art for such a surreal webcomic, I on the other hand, think it fits right on in.

Story: Well, there is little to no story. That does not hinder this webcomic in any way, however, since this isn't about the story. It's about the life of the cartoonist, about poetry, about emotions...and using symbolism and metaphor to do it with.

Characters: Well, the characters aren't all that important in the grand scheme of things. For one thing, they represent ideas, concepts, people in the creator's life...and the creator himself.

Overall: This is not your typical webcomic, by any means. It's strange, surreal, and some people might not understand it. However, it offers some thought-provoking insights, spiced with a little humor, and a peek into the artist's own life. As I said, this comic's not for everyone, but I found myself able to enjoy it's surreal messages. 9/10.
Review by Luthorne Sun Sep 07 2003 01:04 PM

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