Swordmaster Odyssey

What Did I Learn?
webcomic reviews by Delos Woodruff

This week’s review is on Swordmaster Odyssey, by Dale Johnson. Normally, I start off discussing the art in the comic I’m reviewing. For Swordmaster, I’m switching it up because it’s light, fun reading. I’m going to mention some nitpicky stuff but I learned something very important. Let’s talk about characters.

A breakdown on the major characters is fairly straightforward. The heroine of Swordmaster is a fifteen year old girl named Jesse. She’s trying to find her older brother who is a very skilled swordsman. She visually seems to age about six years between the end of the first chapter and the beginning of the second. Perhaps it’s an “now I’m acting older thing,” I’m not sure. It’s a small point since Jesse has far more to worry about than that.

There are a bunch of unknown actors, as they say in spy movies. You have Hayden, a mercenary with a cloth half covering half of his face. It’s hard to tell if he’s really a good guy but he seems to be – he’s kind of the Han Solo type before he chose to join up with the Rebellion. My nitpick here is that it would be counterproductive to wear a cloth over one eye because that would block Hayden’s peripheral vision. It would be harder to survive swordbattles, I would think.

Maybe, just maybe, the cloth is covering up something special about his eye on that side. I say that becuase the main bad guy presented so far is Silver. He’s a mercenary with seemingly half closed eyes working under the hire of a General of the Provincial Guard. Then there is the General’s creepy henchman. With no eyes. And the General also has no eyes. Swordmaster is anime influenced and I’m starting to see a pattern hinted at here. Maybe that’s another nitpick.

The Swordmaster storyline is pretty direct but has these little hints that are starting to add up. As of yet, nothing major has come of them but I’m the paranoid sort. I’d summarize the story so far by saying that Jesse journeys out, trying to find her brother and gets mixed up with a ne’er do well and these major players in the big political sphere.

The art is serviceable. Swordmaster is done in black and white with grey tones. It’s more on the anime/manga cartoonish side, but it has some interesting angles of view. These are the kinds of things you see in much more technically drawn works.

In my last review, I praised the artist for being able to draw a marshmellow on a stick. In this case, Swordmaster has a lot of scenes of feet hitting the ground, all drawn with line and having very little texture. Specifically: feet in boots, minimally drawn, yet the artist still gets the point across. It’s interesting because if you took some of those panels out of the comic and showed them around … I doubt many would connect them to the concept of boots landing on the ground. I find it very interesting how much the art can successfully depend on the context to accomplish its purpose.

The backgrounds are passable but do not normally possess much detail. (I just reviewed Paradigm Shift, which has an abnormal amount of background detail and so I am taking special notice of Swordmaster.) Typically, Swordmaster’s backgrounds do their job of communicating where the action is taking place. Sometimes, too, the background is made up of speedlines. The art fits the style of the storytelling, so it works just fine. (I also feel compelled to mention that I prefer the colored work in the title to the b&w of the regular comic – I understand that time may not allow for that.)

What Did I Learn?

While you might think that I’d more likely appreciate a more technically drawn comic, I learned something very important. In my own comic, I have the tendency to want to draw with some complexity, purely out of habit. I now also recall Calvin & Hobbes and how the black and white parts are not done with exceedingly precise line. Yet, Watterson is clearly a superbly skilled artist. Picasso could really create very serious portraiture but he didn’t feel the need to complicate his other styles with needless detail.

So I’m taking a lesson from Swordmaster: draw to the style of story and storytelling that you are aiming for. Don’t underdraw and don’t overdraw. Don’t be afraid to tell a direct story.

Swordmaster Odyssey updates on Fridays and is currently just beginning chapter seven. It’s still early enough to read the entire archive in pretty short order, so look it over.

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