Friday, 31 December 2010

Jolly Christmas and a Ronery New Year

Sappy New Year from SHIDDY IMAGE on Vimeo.

May all you girls bear many handsome sons, and all you boys establish alpha dominance amongst your tribes (to whatever extent is reasonable).

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

I just finished watching Kaiba. It was sad and difficult and confusing, but I very much liked it. It's too complicated to do any justice with a brief crappy post like this, so all I'll say is that it definitely fits the bill of "anime you should watch if you like interesting things". Or if you like animation, or are just burnt out on stupid pandering crap.

It was nice to watch in the midst of Panty & Stocking, since it's pretty much the perfect antithesis. P&S is loud, abrasive, schlocky raw entertainment and it knows it, with angular characters even going to the extremes of inverted-curves design. Kaiba is subtle, low-key, DEEP as fuck, with characters that look all soft and pudgy.

I realise now that I didn't take any screenshots and I can't be bothered to get any right now to post. Fuck it, it's from 2008 anyway, you can find plenty about if you look. I'll probably rewatch it at some point and take millions of screenshots, though.

I suddenly realise that Neiro's waggly hair probably looks really strange up there. I can't even tell anymore. I knew I shouldn't ahve tried to to an animated doodle starting at midnight when I've got work tomorrow. La dee da.

I am beset upon to watch Venture Brothers instead of this animu bullshit. I shall get on that when I am not stupidly busy.

Thursday, 4 November 2010


I've been a bit bored lately. Did some work on a pitch for the lovely fellows at Treat and we won it so as of next week or so I will be a busy bee on some christmas ads. Other than that I have been doing alot of not much.

A nice timewaster I have found, which follows on from my former (and still to a small extent current) timekiller of doing Mario Paint Composer covers, is Notessimo, which is sort of like a more advanced, Flash based version. It has loads more instruments, lets you set volume and panning for individual notes, and has layers. I've been working on-and-off on a cover of "The Extreme", the final boss theme from Final Fantasy VIII. I don't remember that one being a particularly good game, but it's an incredibly awesome piece of music, and the equivalents from VI and VII have already been done (they're even on the Featured page!), so I thought, "Why not?" This is where I'm at right now.

Link in case the flash embed fails.

My attention span is rather short so while I will hopefully finish this (I'm fairly pleased with how it's going so I'd definitely like to), I don't know if I'll do many more in future. It's so much more complicated and time-consuming than Mario Paint! That said, I did also start Sandopolis Zone Act 2 from Sonic 3 & Knuckles concurrently (I alternated between the two before I got into a good groove with The Extreme), so here's the current progress on that, which I'm also rather pleased with.


I also went the London MCM Expo on Sunday. When I was invited by my lovely, almost saintly friend Emily I was thinking "Jesus has it really already been a year?" Then she told me it's every six months. Thank goodness! Anyway, as promised I went dressed as Tetsuo, but I tragically COMPLETELY FORGOT TO TAKE ANY PHOTOS, so you will have to take my word for it (and Emily's and Joe's if they comment on here, since they both bore witness). I decided not to do the whole "red cape white vest" thing we see him do in the movie, because: A. It's goofy; B. It's been done alot. So I kind of amalgamated a couple of different looks from various parts of the manga (he changes appearance about 5 times), and wore a utility vest over nothing, which he wears in volume 6, but also kept the robotic arm that he has earlier on. You'll know roughly what I mean if you've watched the movie, but in the manga it's more organic, so I achieved it by painting it all over my right arm, and customising one of those skeleton gloves to look mechanical. It worked surprisingly well, even if the paint got somewhat rubbed off on the way in (because it was FREEZING COLD so I had to wear a jumper over it *sadface*). For the full look, I should also have gone barefoot and bleached my hair, but I learned too late that bleaching one's hair does not happen in an afternoon.

I know it's lame to do a whole paragraph talking about stuff like that with no visual guide but that's how I roll.

I also got to play Kirby's Epic Yarn, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and the Wii version of Goldeneye. Of the first, I thought it was adorable and definitely fun with two people, though hopefully it continues to offer new things so the original novelty factor doesn't wear off (also I think it's kinda dark how you kill enemies by just... unravelling them, and I find this rather appropriate). Of the second, I thought it was a bit gimmicky and didn't seem to have much real substance (also I've never been all too keen on the idea of having to waggle to do a basic thing like roll). Of the third, I remained totally unsure of the point. Goldeneye was fun on the N64 because if you had an N64 you weren't playing the probably superior FPS's on the PC, and also because it was the first game of the sort where you could really expect to have four people playing it together in the same room. Repeating it now just seems redundant (also, inverted y-axis master race was here, all you non-inverted peasants should go back to trading hats or something).

I kind of wish I'd brought more than just a tenner, because then maybe I would have bought some of the neat things I saw there. It's all well and good going home and doing a £50 manga binge on Amazon, but you can't get stuff like doujinshi on Amazon. I saw an Aria one (don't know if it was hentai or not, lolzzz), I should've bought it and maybe checked out more from that stall. I also tried to get Emily to buy a K-On futanari doujinshi for a friend of hers who had requested porn. IT WOULD'VE BEEN WORTH £14. I also saw a stall run by Yamino, the artist of Sister Claire, one of the only webcomics out of all the ones I read that I would not feel embarassed for other people to see. I actually feel really terrible for saying hi and then not buying anything. I'M SORRY YAMINO. If you're at the next one I promise I'll give you some money (if you update more, he says, well aware of the inherent hypocrisy).

The whole "at least one creative thing per blog post" thing seems to have merely caused me to post even less rather than draw more. However, I plan to stick by it, and I'm not counting those Notesimmo works above, so here are two drawings I did today.

If you don't get it, be thankful, it is literally the lamest and most forced meme ever. I currently have "doubles" and "check em" filtered and will keep things that way for the forseeable future and I still can't seem to completely avoid it.

Yes, more of that same creature from Alien Nine. Though it's more than just a dumb practice doodle this time (this is a lie, I literally thought this up on the toilet). Those drills take fucking ages to draw, I've no idea how Hitoshi Tomizawa ever did a weekly manga with those things everywhere. Must've had lots of assistants (or just worked literally all day every day, as I hear most manga artists do). It's also really hard to keep a good composition going with those things involved. I am pleased with how appealing Kumi looks, though.

Oh yeah, I'm still watching Panty and Stocking. It is by far the most difficult to place thing I've watched it ages. On the one hand I feel it's actually got uglier since the first episode, and the awesome animation and visual moments haven't really been coming consistently or at all (I even got into a massive argument with some people on /a/ about it, as I'm prone to do, which also led to a nervous little moment when someone recognised me through a filename and linked this blog on there, and I was worried this little corner of the internet where I can talk shit with impunity would be compromised). On the other hand, the humour and characters are sporadically improving and there's been some actual genuinely funny moments. Overall, as my friend Joe said, it's interesting, and that's one of the best things you can say about most anime these days. I'm not going to end up rating it as highly as a masterpiece like, say, FLCL (oh, I can hear the trolls already), or even just a really overall great series like Gurren Lagann, but I'll definitely remember it more than I will Mitsudomoe or whatever other flavour-of-the-month nonsense I've watched lately.

P.S. I'm in the Stocking camp. I know everybody's in the Stocking camp. I don't care.
This moment from episode 4 is probably the hardest I've laughed at an anime in literally years.

Oh yeah, I also watched Forrest Gump recently, which is a good film, as well as the first few episodes of Seinfeld, which is also, as it turns out, quite good.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Sorry I never replied to that link you sent on Facebook, Joe!

Sooner than I thought it would be, the first episode of Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt aired. As I'd kind of feared, judging from the progression of the promotional artwork that was released since the first piece we saw a while ago, it's taken on a much more angular, abrasive, cluttered look than I'd first hoped. Lots of it is just REALLY fucking ugly. Like, a modern ugly western cartoon style that's been copied by a japanese artist with the typical "detail-everywhere-lines-everywhere-composition-doesn't-matter-just-fill-it-all-in-with-shit" mentality that's one of the main things I dislike about anime and manga visually.

But lots of it is also REALLY FUCKING AWESOME. Because it's being made by people who, despite some weird notions of what constitutes """""good design"""" (note the quadruple quotation marks on that), are probably some of the best animators around at the moment, and the project is driven by their sheer love for what they do, and not the desire to churn out just another bland, loveless, pandering product like 95% of what the anime industry produces these days.

Idealogically it is basically FLCL 2.0. And how anybody can say this as a negative really baffles me (but then again many anime fans seem to genuinely just not like animation).

To hell with write ups and detailed analysis, random screenshot time.

I like the use of text, the colours in most of it, the random art style changes, and the many ridiculously cool camera moves, both hand-drawn AND CGI! I can't possibly capture those in still images but they are really stunning. Dynamic camera moves in action scenes are one thing Japanese animators are often really good at (along with moving lots of little bits independantly but also together), but there's massive full-on swooping scenery moves as well! The fact that they used CG intelligently and near seamlessly along with it was a pleasant surprise.

It's also funny to see just how much of a westaboo Yoh Yoshinari really is. As it turns out, the show uses the two-part format common to 90s and onward western cartoons, and it even has appropriately-styled title-cards, including the front-lined artist credits that John K. brought back to the format with Ren & Stimpy.

It's like I'm really watching Cartoon Network!

By the way, I (obviously) haven't been updating much lately. The reason for this is that I started feeling like I was turning into something I really don't want to be seen as: a critic. Not that I don't want to write about things, but I've basically hit a lifetime low of actually producing work. I've had lots of employment recently, but to be honest pretty much none of it will be going in my showreel, or even getting shown to anyone ever. And in between, I've just been feeling very depressed and demotivated. Basically I've been writing all high-and-mighty and feeling like I've got no right to since I've not exactly been producing stellar work that proves I know what I'm talking about in the meantime. And, honestly, I don't: as far as I'm concerned I'm still a student, despite having been practicing professionally for over two years now. However, I don't want to stop writing this blog, however underqualified I might be to do so, because, at this point, denying myself something I genuinely enjoy is probably the worst thing I can do.

Thus, from now on, I plan to impose a new rule on myself: with each entry I will include something visual to go with the writing, that I have produced. A sketch, a doodle, a design, an animation loop, ANYTHING. Literally no matter how shit it is. Even if I have to open MS Paint and scrawl a penis  in 2 minutes before hitting the "Publish Post" button. I think my biggest limiting factor right now is that I am too scared of my drawings being shit, so I need to get away from that.

This entry falls under this ruling too, so here's some unspectacular sketches of one of the really weird alien design's from Hitoshi Tomizawa's wonderful Alien Nine manga (also an anime by J.C. Staff, though sadly it doesn't cover enough of the story to include this creature).

Oh, and since it's related, here's a shit MS Paint doodle for a "draw a scene from an anime for others to guess" thread on /a/.

It's pretty accurate.

Oh, also, I saw Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Toy Story 3 recently. Both were good, better than I was expecting. Scott Pilgrim was just too much raw fun for me to maintain whatever reservations I had about it beforehand, and I would totally have gone to see it again. Toy Story 3 was the first Pixar movie since The Incredibles that I didn't think had something really, critically wrong with it. Might talk about it more later. Also Up is STILL SHIT.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

A first hand account.

My sense of dread was mounting gradually. I had been waiting outside Shepherd's Bush station for about 15 minutes, and had yet to see the person I was waiting for. This was not the cause of my dread, as I had arrived about 20 minutes ahead of time, so had no concern that we had missed eachother, nor that I would be late for our mutual appointment. The cause of my dread was the people I had seem emerging intermittently from the station, people not associated with me directly. Under other circumstances they would cause me no concern, as in any other situation they would be largely unidentifiable, and inoffensive even if recognised. In fact, normally they would not even appear to be related at all, much less of the same caste. However, knowing where I was planning to go within the next half hour, I was intensely aware of the fact that all these people were going to the same place, ostensibly for the same reasons, and that, to anybody aware of these facts, I would appear the same as them. The same as the sweaty, socially awkward manchildren with facial hair adorning the undersides of their chins like scarves. The same as the nauseating underage girls wearing their obsession with "boy's love" media on their sleeves, along with the cat-ears, coloured wigs, and black striped stockings. The same as the clueless infants, accompanied by their worryingly willing parents. And while I had tried to maintain a facade of irony and self-awareness in the face of my association with these people in the past, I was becoming more and more aware that in some ways I really was like them.

The reason for all of this was that I was going to a Sonic the Hedgehog convention. Namely, Summer of Sonic 2010.

I had intended to meet up with somebody from a forum I still visit, populated by jaded, cynical, self-loathing former Sonic fans like myself, and go together in order to mitigate the embarassment of the whole thing. However, my 15 minute wait ended up extending to 30 minutes, and with no sign of my compatriot a quarter of an hour after the intended meeting time, I decided to simply proceed ahead myself, hoping we would be able to identify eachother in the queue, that is if he hadn't got cold feet and simply decided not to come. As it would turn out, he apparently did go, but somehow we missed eachother all day.

We had agreed to meet up at 9:30am outside the station, a good hour and a half before the actual opening of the event. The reason for this was the promise that those at the front of the queue would receive, while they lasted, a freebie from First 4 Figures' new line of Sonic merchandise, before its official release, that being a very appealing Metal Sonic figurine. Both of us wanted one, so we intended to turn up early to beat the queue. As it turned out, there was already a large crowd of ne'er-do-wells outside the doors when I arrived, however, it seemed that these would remain merely a crowd and only form into an actual line at about 10:30, when barriers would be put up to herd everybody in. I managed to be in the front of the queue, surrounded by further reminders of my serious self-esteem issues, occasionally hounded by the rain and the leavings of the birds peeking over the edge of the roof.

After about half an hour of avoiding eye-contact or talking to anybody, the doors opened. Herded by the bouncers, I made my way in, and was given my while-stocks-last goodie-bag, containing a few things I didn't give a shit about, and also the figure. I was pleased to have obtained it, but as it would turn out, it would be far from the greatest prize I would receive for my troubles.

Upon entering I scouted the venue. It was a fairly roomy, high-ceilinged warehouse, though of course nothing compared to the scale of, say, the venue for the MCM Expo. The floor was divided into three sections, getting lower as one moved away from the entrance. The front section was home to a few stalls with people peddling wares of various sorts (which I would peruse shortly) and several long lines of tables to the right (apparently for people to sit down and draw Sonic the Hedgehog all day, or, in many cases, their own crappy recolour fancharacters). The second level housed several televisions screens with consoles hooked up. Immediately I could tell that two of these held the second primary reason for my visiting after the figure: a playable version of Sonic 4, promised by Sega to be a return to form for the hedgehog (after the last several failures). The third level held, I would find out, two more consoles, demoing the third reason for my visit: a taster of Sonic Colors, another new game, one that promised far less, but looked, in my eyes, to be delivering alot more. There was also a moderate stage in the centre, which would host various events throughout the day.

 A view from the gallery above the stage. Photo stolen from someone else's blog, as I forgot to take my camera on the day.

I would have beelined straight from the consoles, but I decided to cast an eye over the stalls first. It was immediately caught by the one right in front of me, as it seemed to be selling old copies of Fleetway'ss Sonic the Comic, a publication that had successfully nurtured my obsession with the character as a child, and which had long since fallen out of publication. At this point, my cynicism took a back-seat to my nostalgia. I scanned over all the available issues as quickly as the small crowd to my sides and back would allow, and was quickly struck by how well I recognised almost every single cover, and even remembered many of the stories just from said covers. Copies were going for between £1 and £4, but I hadn't spent anything in a while, and I decided that I did not want to pass this chance up. I selected several key issues from stories that I remembered fondly, as well as a few from parts of its print-run that I hadn't experienced at the time (that is, the very beginning, as I started reading with issue #7, and the very end, as, for reasons I still don't know I had simply stopped buying the comic after a certain point, right in the middle of an enjoyable and pivotal arc).

I also picked out a couple of copies featuring stories with art done by a particular person: Nigel Dobbyn. The reason for this was that one of the attractions of the day with the presence of the man himself, and after finding out about this several weeks before, I had looked over some of his art again online and had kindled a distinct fondness for it, fanned by the experience and perspective that I had lacked when I first read the stories. More on that later, however.

Having given in to childish fancies my second port of call was the Sonic 4 booth. I wanted to get a shot at this before the queues became long, a wise choice at it turned out, as I would later consider another go only to find a line stretching across the hall, far longer than I was prepared to wait. Having been quick at the StC stall, I only had to wait for three or four people to go before me, and so I was able to sample Sega's latest offering. My thoughts follow.

The first thing I noticed was Sonic's acceleration. Or lack of it. The first and thus far only thing I can think of to aptly describe it is that he accelerates like a million bags of bricks. To put it in simpler terms, he accelerates very slowly
The second thing I noticed was the Jump Dash. Well, technically I didn't notice the Jump Dash itself, as I had already known of its presence in the game from the trailers. For those unaware, this is a move that was introduced in Sonic Adventure, the first truly 3D Sonic game, and was an upshoot of his Homing Attack ability, also introduced in the same game. When an enemy is nearby, one could press the jump button a second time in midair to have Sonic automatically shoot towards the enemy, and dispatch it quickly. When no enemy is present, Sonic simply dashes forwards. While not as potent in its accelerative power as the Spin Dash, introducd in Sonic 2 years before, it could act as a quick way to get moving. Both of these moves have been in almost every Sonic game since, 3D or otherwise. What I noticed about the Jump Dash in Sonic 4 was that it accelerates Sonic very quickly. Too quickly. So quickly, in fact, that I actually died by running into the first enemy, something I haven't seen someone do since I gave my little sister my Gameboy and Super Mario Land for two minutes about 15 years ago, and watched as she walked straight into the first "Chibibo" enemy. I would have been embarassed, had embarassment not gone out the door 15 minutes before. On my second try I used the spin dash, dispatching the enemy safely, and grabbed some rings right after to defend against further mishaps. As I would go on, however, the problems suggested by this minor episode would show themselves to be ever present. I would find Sonic's natural acceleration constantly at odds both with the jerky thrust of the Jump Dash, and with the level design itself: some simple left-right platform hops would prove to be an exercise in frustration, as despite the distance being scarcely wider than Sonic's own model, a small run up would be needed just to guarentee a landing, a problem compounded by paradoxically floaty jump physics. Sonic's deceleration was also heavy, making any sort of control irritating, but often there would be no need for true control, as much of the level I played featured largely tracts of "Homing Attacking along a line of enemies" and "being bounced around automatically by springs", both unfortunate traits of the 3D games that, at some point, somebody decided were actually good.

There's a bit of a history behind the momentum problem. Back when Sonic 4 was first unveiled, there was an outcry by many fans, possibly trying to avoid letting themselves fall into another iteration of the Sonic Cycle.

Complaints were primarily about the look of Sonic's controls, and how it looked like one could go too fast too easily. Somewhere around this time somebody started throwing around the phrase "momentum-based gameplay", saying that this was what was lacking from all of Sonic's games of late and was the one thing that could bring him back to his former glory. This perhaps isn't completely without merit. While I never played Sonic Advance 2 or 3, common complaints are that the levels and controls focus too much on simply going fast all the time, forgoing exploration or skilful platforming. Similar complaints, however, are made about Sonic Rush and Sonic Rush Adventure, both of which I HAVE played, and I have to say I did enjoy those for what they were worth. Complaints about too many bottomless pits, which the speed-centric gameplay tricked the player into falling into over and over agin, were erroneous, as only two levels in the first game featured these, and one of them was the second-to-last level and was set in the sky, justifying this sort of trap somewhat. Some also griped about the presence of the Super Boost, a one-button instant speed-up that also renders Sonic invincible, claiming that it trivialised the idea of speed that one had to earn in the original 16-bit games. Certainly Rush and Rush Adventure were not Sonic 1, 2, or 3, and lacked the explorability and true accessibility of the latter games, but they were absolutely not terrible, as I enjoyed engaging in time attack competition with folks at The Sonic Center for a fair while.

Anyway, apparently somebody on the development team of Sonic 4 got word of this "momentum based gameplay" catchphrase, and decided to work it into the game, as Sega announced, following the complaints, that they were delaying release in order to get it right (an unprecedented move, as Sonic games are known for being rushed out at the rate of at least one a year; even in days gone by, Sonic 3 was split in half and released in two parts since development couldn't be finished for the planned release date). However, the mechanic was apparently incoporated with no actual thought or consideration. As far as the developers are concerned, "momentum based gameplay" seems to mean simply "you accelerate and decelerate really slowly (except when you're using the Jump Dash)". Apart from the overzealous implementation of this idea, no attempt seems to have been made to rework the level designs to accomodate it. One is either trying to maneuver Sonic the Brickbag around platforms that he is simply not equipped to deal with, due to too-heavy horizontal movement and too-floaty vertical movement, or being flung about by control-denying series of springs at speeds from which there is no hope of decelerating safely, as you will pretty much only stop when you hit a wall or an enemy. Certainly there is momentum, but it is at the expense of any responsiveness, any pleasurable control, any balance, and any feeling that all the aspects of the game has been designed around. It literally felt like the physics and controls of one game shoehorned into the level designs of another. Even worse than this is that aspects of the controls themselves are mismatched with eachother. The Jump Dash is too fast, normal acceleration is too slow, and the spin dash occupies some sort of uncomfortable, useless middle-ground.

As has, I think, been the hallmark of the failings of all Sonic games lately, any true motivation to either innovate or properly recreate the best aspects of the originals has been superceded by listening blindly to all the wrong parts of the fanbase.

I suffered through this first act of the Splash Hill Zone, and considered continuing to the second, but decided I had seen enough.

I saw from the second level that Sonic Colors was down the front, but before I did I noticed a tall glass cabinet on the other side of the floor, which I took a peek at. It exhibited a several items of varying levels of interest, including the Sonic 10th anniversary pack. However, most intriguing for me was two tanokban volumes of some very elusive Sonic manga. English-language information on these is very scarce, and my memory of and since I didn't bring my camera I couldn't get a shot of the two covers for positive identification them after the fact. From memory, though, I 'm pretty sure they were both from the "Dash & Spin: Chousoku Sonikku" series by Santa Harukaze, published in Coro Coro Comics. There are japanese language scans viewable here.

 Much of it looks to be a pretty silly, gag-oriented manga, but, to be honest, while as a teenager I naturally wanted Sonic to always be darker and edgier (as this is what all teenagers like), the advance of time has made me see the ridiculousness of trying to have completely serious stories featuring a talking blue hedgehog and his furry friends, so I'd be all up for reading something like this. The art looks really cute and funny, too (Japanese fanartists seem to tend towards this with Sonic, whereas western fans try to ape verbatin the irksomely slick, lifeless look of the official Adventure artwork). Maybe someday I'll swallow my shame once again and ask one of my japanese friends to help me translate it for the greater good.

The vintage StC issues had awakened in me that desire that every nerd feels to own rare things just for the sake of owning them, so I was basically frothing at the mouth that these two volumes were merely on display and not for sale. Part of me honestly wishes I'd just forced the case open and run as far as I could with the things, but that's the power of hindsight.

By the way, the other Sonic manga that I know of was simply called "Sonic the Hedgehog", and was published in Shogakukan's Shogaku Yonensei (lit. "fourth-year student) starting 1992. I have a few japanese scans of this floating around, too, though it seems to be just one chapter, which can't be all that was published. Given that it was aimed at a young audience, it seems it was even sillier than Dash & Spin, but even so I'd love to get translations for what I've got of this, too. The art is also cute, but much more old-fashioned looking, and at least as charming in its own way.

Anyway, after this, I made my date with the other new game, Sonic Colors. The queue for this was a bit longer and more confused (in that I couldn't tell who was queueing and who was just milling about), and while I was waiting some guys got up on the stage to do the intro for the con (which was probably amusing for some but doesn't really bear recounting in my eyes). So onto the game.

Sonic Colors, in contrast with Sonic 4, is not exclusively 2D. It uses the formula of Sonic Unleashed's daytime stages, where some sections of levels are played as a side-scroller and others allow full 3D control. I never played Sonic Unleashed (not owning any current-gen console), but complaints about this game generally seemed to center around the night-time stages, where Sonic turned into a werehog and had to go through tons of tiresome combat. By and large the daytime stages were fairly well-received.

The first and principle thing I can say about Sonic Colors is that it won't save the franchise, but it is also not bad from what I played. Again, I can't truthfully say whether or not it's a step forward from Unleashed, but it's definitely better than Sonic Heroes (which I own), Shadow the Hedgehog (which I rented), and Sonic 2006 (which I played in a store for as long as I could get away with, more than long enough to confirm every single negative thing I'd heard about it). The controls aren't classic Sonic, but they're not all super-heavy like Sonic 4, nor are they ultra-twitchy like Heroes. I noticed, in particular, that a little basic platform hopping in one of the 2D segments was far more natural to execute than in the former game. The 3D segments actually seemed to come in two subtely different flavours: free-roaming, if largely linear, areas, where you could move Sonic freely through three dimensions to navigate the obstacles ahead, and "straight ahead" sections, where Sonic would move forward automatically, and pushing left or right on the control stick would merely steer him to the side. (the latter may be derived from similar bits in Sonic 2006, which were notoriously hard to control; I have no knowldge of whether Unleashed featured any equivalent) Until I figured out the difference it was a little confusing at first, but the controls in both of these types of sections were quite acceptable. The 2D parts offered a bit more possibility for exploration, and better showcased this game's sole resort to a gimmick: the variously coloured "Wisps", little creatures that grant Sonic special abilities. The 3D areas featured a blue Wisp that allowed Sonic to shoot forward along the path at high speed like a pinball, but the 2D sections had a yellow wisp, which gives the ability to drill through certian types of terrain at high speed. This allows for access to other areas, either short cuts or bonuses, and is honestly pretty fun to control in its own right. It's a neat addition that is also inoffensive and largely unobtrusive.

One thing I did notice was that there were rather too many fully automatic sections, similar to the orca-chase in the first level of Sonic Adventure (which they recycled for Sonic 06). However, they mostly served as ways to transition between 2D and 3D sections, and didn't feel like they were actively intruding on my own control over the player character as did the spring and booster dominated sections in Sonic 4.

There was also a boss fight featured, a 2D battle against a large robot with its eye and weak-point in the center of a large circle, with a number of platforms rotating around it, and which attacks by grabbing at the circle with its massive clawed hands. It was rather too easy to dispatch, by either hopping ont the platforms to reach it, or running up the sides of the circle and taking a flying leap, and only took four hits, but it was a nice bit of enemy design that promises interesting things for the rest of the game (and is certainly better than the shitfests that were the bosses in Heroes).

I am aware that there is some bias in my expetations when comparing Sonic 4 to Sonic Colors. The former promises, as I've heard too many times by now, to be a return to form for the franchise, and to fix all the many problems it's acquired over the years, so its flaws are naturally more offensive to me. The latter promises almost nothing. However, it's a simple fact that Sonic 4 was a pig to control, whereas Sonic Colors ranged from okay to enjoyable. My expectations for each may be widening the gap, but even without this bias, there would be a gap.

There is also actually a DS version of Colors in development, and it was available, too, but by this time the queues were longer than I could be bothered with, so I decided to give it a miss. What little footage I've seen of it, though, suggests that it will be very similar to the Rush games, and, hey, I enjoyed them, and I actually own the platform, too, so I'll probably pick it up when the time comes.

There were various other attractions throughout the day. Sonic music was blasted through the speakers almost the whole time, some of it being the crap new stuff, but much of it was renditions of the much more pleasing classic themes. Most amusing for me was a mix of "Sonic - You Can Do Anything", the opening theme of the Japanese version of Sonic CD, with the Green Hills Zone theme from the Game Gear and Master Sytem version of Sonic 2, which are pretty much the same song. (you can hear a version here, though the one played at SoS was longer, had some extra percussion, and was overall done better) A cosplay contest was held, which was sort of amusing (I was rooting for the girl dressed as Big the Cat, just for the hilarity of it, though the guy dressed as Dr Eggman, who won, wasn't bad either). The same stage also hosted a panel by Jun Senoue and Johnny Gioeli, otherwise known as Crush 40, who do most of the tolerable-to-dreadful, cheesy vocal music for modern Sonic games. Senoue isn't actually a bad guitarist, nor is Gioeli actually a terrible vocalist, and I can enjoy some of their stuff sometimes, but often it's just too cheesy. Check out the main theme to Sonic Heroes, for example. Then again, given that I love the main theme to Sonic CD (already linked), which is also a cheese-fest, I'm not sure I have any right to criticise.

Anyway, all that stuff isn't really important. The last attraction of the con for me was the chance to meet Nigel Dobbyn, already mentioned as an artist on the long-since dead Sonic the Comic. The purchasing of those old issues has given me a chance to make fresh comparisons with some of the artists of that comic, and sort of feel like, actually, he was probably one of the only truly talented artists drawing for the Sonic stories which were its main draw (it also had series based on other Sega games). Richard Elson was considered "the good one" by myself and many others back in the day (indeed, I actually got to meet him at some barely-remembered event when I was little, and got a drawing of a comics-only character I always found hard to draw, which I still have), but looking at his art now I find it kind of bland. He tended to draw characters with too-round heads and bodies, practically perfect circles, rather than the organic forms that living things should be made of.

He was also apparently completely unable to draw convincing facial expressions. Here's an example: in this story, Porker Lewis, one of Sonic's long-suffering friends in his fight against Robotnik's tyranny, has finally reached his wit's end after being held hostage for a whole month by a race of evil robots bent on world domination, and has made the incredibly difficult decision to give up the fight, leave the group consisting of all his friends in the world, and live life by himself. To make matters worse, Sonic, the leader figure of the group and probably the person Porker looks up to the most, is being totally unsympathetic about it (Fleetway Sonic was a douchebag, to everyone, all the time). This is how Elson chose to portray that complicated emotion...

Some blobs of snot at the bottoms of his eyes...

and a "bloobloobloo" pose (also featuring some classic Fleetway Sonic dickness).

I think the appeal of his artwork was that it looked cleaner and more polished than many others. The fact that he started on the comic quite early, at least as early as  issue 7, when all the rest of the art was totally laughable, probably helped establish him as "the good artist" in many people's minds. It was also pretty detailed at times which is impressive when you're ignorant (I realise the horrible arrogance of saying something like this, but I can't really think of a nicer way to get the point across).

In fairness, I think he is a legitimately good draftsman. Technically, I actually owe a fair bit of my own drawing ability to him, since in one issue he did a step-by-step "How to draw Sonic" guide, and demonstrated the principles of construction, long before a man called John K. was blogging and telling people about the wonders of the "Preson Blair book". I would eventually go on to pick up many bad habits as I continued to draw Sonic, influenced by other artists, and in particular the style of the official Sonic Adventure artwork, used from 1999 until very recently (possibly it still crops up sometimes), but in the end I do owe Elson alot so I can't really criticise too much.

Here's a later double-page spread (issue #86, the above is from #38)
Check out the bottom jaw of the green guy in the front. Very clearly constructed. Other bits of it are a bit more dodgy to my eye, though, and kind of get cluttered up or obscured by details.

Now, it would be unfair to say that Dobbyn's handling of the characters wasn't patchy, too, but his failings come across more like human mistakes, rather than overall mechanical coldness. I get the impression Dobbyn had trouble making the simple designs of the Sonic characters look good, as he seemed to handle more complicated characters more confidently.

Overall, Dobbyn's artwork was atmospheric. His colour pallettes were always distinctive and often varied, usually muted and organic but also sometimes effectively limited and vibrant, and almost always warm (though cold when it was fitting, too). His linework was exquisite, and his ability to describe texture was brilliant.
Here's scanned pages from the first part of one of the many Knuckles stories he did (please click them, they're huge).
These pages (and others from this story that I don't have) showcase lots of the things I love best about Dobbyn's artwork; and alot of the reasons why Dobbyn was so well cast as the go-to artist for basically all the Knuckles stories. Knuckles himself is drawn okay, not spectacularly, but without that soulless edge Elson's art has for me now. But look at the rocks and bones of that valley. They're craggy, gritty, textured, organic, both in the linework and the painting. That dinosaur looks both solid and ethereal at the same time, and the texture of its skin is communicated perfectly without cluttering up the form. The colour work is very simple and pared down but it's pleasing to look at on its own merit, and also clearly signposts every element of each image. One thing I can't show here is that the purples we see in those shadowy bones on the first and last pages come to dominate more as the story progresses. On a purely practical level, it's because the location changes (Knuckles gets beat up, captured, and hauled in a cave), but it also signals a change of tone. The purple is a bit flamboyant, admittedly, but it works so well in context.

This concentration on mood was perfect for the stories featuring Knuckles as the protagonist. Knuckles (as far as StC portrayed him) was a much more solitary, brooding character than the arrogant Sonic, so it makes sense that his stories should feel more moody, a bit grittier and more serious (I know I've scoffed at the idea of Serious Sonic Stories earlier in this very post, hush). He lived, mostly, in his own isolated world (for those who aren't Sonic nerds, Knuckles is the last member of his race left on an island floating in the sky, and has spent his whole life alone there guarding the Master Emerald that keeps it afloat), so it fits to focus, subtley, on that world.

There's also something shown in these pages that Dobbyn didn't always do right, but which I feel I almost never see in modern comics, either British, American, or Japanese, and that's clear compositions. Along with the pared down colour is pared down use of space. He's not afraid to reduce the background to just a painted texture, or even just pure white space, just to isolate the characters at a key moment. In general, he keeps clutter to a minimum, and details at the right size and organised well so that they don't screw up the larger, more important shapes. And sometimes he makes really great use of composition for a specific purpose. For example, the purple bones on the first and last pages above are used fantastically. On the first, as a barrier, to illustrate the difficulty of safely descending into the canyon, and also to imply that it is a prison, a trap. On the last, to make this feeling of being trapped explicit, evoking prison bars, while also resembling grasping, clawing fingers.

I just now noticed another clever use of framing in those first three panels on the first page. We start with a mid-shot of Knuckles from front on, then we have a side view from further back, and finally a long shot from behind. The camera both pulls back, shifting our focus from the character to the environment he's in, and pans around, implying his journey. It's very simple but quite effective, it'd probably work just as well in film or animation as in comics.

Now, to go back to the account of the con for a moment, setting aside the stage events, my next port of call after checking out Sonic Colors was to meet the man himself. There was a small queue, though this progressed slowly, as he was offering free sketches on request (mostly of people's crappy fan-characters). I would have asked for one, but there was really nothing I felt like asking for, and I figured I'd give him a break since he looked a bit tired, so I just asked him to put his signature on the cover of the comic those pages above came from (he did it rather smaller than I would have liked, fitting given his unassuming demeanour, but I should have given him a big fat marker and asked him to scrawl it right across the page). He was also selling prints of a new piece of Knuckles artwork, but what had really caught my eye was the portfolio full of original Sonic the Comic pages, all for sale! (there were also a few from more recent projects, such as a Digimon series) I spent ages and ages browsing through, trying to decide which I wanted to buy, I honestly could have picked almost any page. After much time I decided on three that I particularly wanted, but as they were £20 each and I only had £20 on me at the time, I had to put that down, let Mr Dobbyn know I wanted to put my name on a bunch more and would come back with the monies, run out to find a cashpoint to get monies, come back with monies, then decide I actually wanted four instead of the inital three, and thus put down 20 more monies than I originall intended. They are arrayed below. Again, click for HUEG. Apologies for some slightly crappy scanning in areas, but the first three of these are more than twice the size my scanner can fit, so alot of stitching was involved.

The first three are from the "Homecoming" storyline, where one of Knuckles' long lost echidna people, Dr Zachary, comes back, only to turn out to be evil (two of them had the text-bubble overlay attached, but I didn't included that when scanning). This was a storyline I liked at the time, and seeing these pages again reminded me that Nigel's artwork was at least as strong here as in "The Graveyard". Clear and readable panel layouts throughout, even at thumbnail resolution. I love that first panel on the first page, as Dr Zachary (piloting one of the Floating Island's guardian robots) prepares to fly down to the planet surface. I think the way the pose, the clouds and rocks, the edge of the island, and the horizon work together is really nice. The streaky clouds are a nice device to illustrate the situation (the Master Emerald has been destroyed, so the island is losing altitude and ploughing through the lower atmosphere), and are also used as an effective compositional device (though I'd maybe have made some different decisions, such as having them radiate from the mountain in the last panel on the second page rather than going across it). I don't have those pages, but after this those streaky clouds are, of course, absent, and it's a nice change that you at first notice only subconsciously. The colours on these pages are really great, too. The green used for the grass is earthy and warm, and works really well with the tasteful purples and reds and blues in the rocks and clouds.

The fourth page is from a later one-shot story. I think the Floating Island was stuck on the planet surface for a while, so Knuckles went on some adventures, and at one point he's crossing the ocean for some reason and gets attacked by this random crab character. The art here is as good as ever, but I mostly picked this page because I think it's just really funny that there's this well-drawn semi-realistic crab wearing a goddamn sailor's hat in a world of weird, dumpy cartoon animals. Nigel remembered the crab character with a smile, which pleased me.

I was kind of worried that I would wake up the next day and look at these pages and wish I hadn't bothered, but in all honesty I wish I'd bought twice as many. Printed reproductions just do not do stuff like this justice.

I'd like to scan and post some other Dobbyn artwork from the other comics I bought, in particular some stuff that's very unlike that (which I don't really like as much), just to show a different side of things, but I have literally been writing this post for about two weeks on and off and I need to get it finished.

What I will post, since I already have them scanned, is a few pages by the other Nigel who worked on StC, Nigel Kitching. he worked mostly as a writer (in fact, I think he was the primary writer for much of the comic's run), but occasionally he'd get to draw some strips, and I believe the first series he did was Decap Attack, an adaptation of a game I never played.

Now, the arrogant, underqualified critic in me wants to say these are "primitive", "unprincipled", "ugly", and other such things, but I honestly find this stuff really funny. Kitching was perfect to draw Decap Attack since, while I don't know what the game was like, the comic was incredibly silly, filled with daft British humour. I guess it was a chance for Kitching to unwind from the occasionally over-dramatic other series the comic ran, both with the writing and the art.

That cop face in the second panel of the first page cracks me up.

The third and fourth pages are from a Captain Plunder story, a character who was original to the comic but created for Sonic's universe (he was first seen as an antagonist to Sonic, and later had adventures of his own that occasionally crossed over with the other characters, including at least one story with Knuckles, which Dobbyn drew! Look out for that later). He worked great for that too. I also have one issue here with a chapter from a Kitching-drawn Tails story, which seems like a mismatch since Tails' own episodes were a bit more sombre in tone, but it somehow works. I'll post later.

The colour work on these pages is actually pretty good, too.

Anyway, having obtained my pages from Mr Dobbyn, I now had my hands full of goods and my nose full of the smell of hundreds of sweaty nerds, so I felt it time to go home. I ended up delaying a fair bit, since it was raining and I didn't have anything to cover the priceless A3 and A2 gouache-painted pages I'd just bought (I ended up using my jumper), so I got to see much of the panel by Jun Senoue and Johnny Gioeli (mentioned above), which was sort of fun, but eventually I got home. My spoils for the day are shown below.

Metal Sonic with other First4Figures toys I bought previously.

Overally, it was sort of fun I guess? Certainly an amusing day. Whether I'd go again I don't know. Hopefully if I did I'd be better able to coordinate with other people so I wouldn't have to go alone, but I don't know if there'd be a specific reason for me to go at all as there was this year what with the two new Sonic games. (What am I saying? They make at least one new Sonic game every year these days. Also I will blatantly have nothing better to do on the day so yeah I probably will end up going) Maybe Nigel Dobbyn will be there again and might still have a few good pages to buy so I can throw away some more of my money. All-in-all, even without considering those prizes, I don't feel like a worse person for having gone so good for me I guess.

I hope this post was fun to read (assuming you've actually got here by reading all of it rather than just skipping to the end, you lazy bastards). I omitted some stuff since I'm tired of not having it finished (again, it's been on-and-off for two weeks), I probably ended up forgetting a few things on top of that, and I'm aware that the writing style changed completely over its course, but nonetheless I hope it amuses somebody.