|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.