Night Owls

By | Wednesday, October 01, 2008 1 comment
Well, since it's Night Owls month over at Zuda Comics -- some fool gave the Timony twins the keys to the castle! -- I figure it's high time I reviewed their comic. Plus, they've featured vampires and zombies and ghosts, so it fits in well with the month-long celebration that is Halloween here in the U.S. (Actually, some of my neighbors have had their Halloween decorations up for a couple of weeks now. I mean, sure, I can understand the popularity of the holiday and people spending time to prepare for it, but seriously... six weeks? And have you seen the cost of costumes these days? You get one, maybe two uses out it? One of my co-workers ran into a guy dressed up as Superman at a bar a couple of months ago. His rationale for wearing the blue tights was that he spent a crudload of money on the costume, and wasn't comfortable having only the one opportunity to wear it. But I digress...)

The Night Owls is about an occult detective agency in the 1920s. The proprietor is Prof. Ernest Baxter and he's ably assisted by the uncharacteristically-strong-for-the-time Mindy Markus. A gargoyle by the name of Roscoe provides most of the comic relief.

The stories so far have ranged from short, one-page gags to extended storylines having a few twists and turns to secondary plots that have been floating in the background throughout most of the run. There's been some more original (to my eyes, at least) stories -- like the man who steals faces -- and some revivals of old classics -- like the Pied Piper. What they all have in common, though, is some (often comedic) twists on old tropes. I think they've got the first instance I've ever seen of a woman winning a fist-fight with a werewolf.

The stories, even the longer ones, remain well-contained to a single page. Although the entire span of tales is available on the exact same web page, Peter seems to have put in the extra care to ensure that they're stories are accessible at just about any point a reader runs into them. And, as additional way to ensure their accessibility, the fonts are all set so that the stories can be read at the smaller size Zuda defaults to. It may seem like a minor point, but I do believe that it's significant and has helped The Night Owls (and High Moon) become more popular than their competition. So, coupled with the smooth storytelling, The Night Owls is a comic that is about as easy to jump into as one can expect.

Speaking of the artwork, Bobby's linework is very smooth, and I think is what initially attracted me to the comic. The characters are all incredibly consistently rendered, and all very distinctive visually. Despite that, he still captures a 1920's feel with the costume and prop designs, as well as the sepia color palette. An interesting, but subtle, touch also comes through in the fact that every page uses the same header, which showcases the comic's title and the three protagonists. This does eliminate some of the space that could be used for storytelling, but with the largely conventional page layouts (which do fit with the comic thematically) and the easy lines, I don't expect they'd gain much by using that additional space. Although The Night Owls looks vastly different than High Moon, I think both are taking advantage of the specific medium and format they're working within, and are part of the reason they strike me as more successful. We're not looking at comics that someone couldn't sell in a traditional pamphlet format, we're looking at comics created expressly for the purpose of being shown through the Zuda window.

I think that should be a lesson for future Zuda competitors. Even if you've got a great idea, a greater writer and a great artist, I think the really successful Zuda comics are the ones that spend a little more time figuring out how to work in the Zuda format. The pacing and structure of a Zuda page is vastly different than in a mainstream pamphlet comic, or a newspaper strip, or a mini-comic. That needs to at least be acknowledged if not taken advantage of by the creators.

One of the sub-plots running through The Night Owls almost since its inception was the notion that Ernest Baxter was, himself, a vampire. He eschewed sunlight to an almost ridiculous degree and was set upon by the local vampire community seeking revenge. At the conclusion of last season, readers learned, however, that Baxter was not in fact a vampire but avoided sunlight to avoid detection by a giant monster called "Big Owl." Season two started yesterday, and we started getting some of the back story which cleverly ties in with an earlier story. I don't know if this was planned from the start, or merely a story element that was taken advantage of, but in either case, it reflects some smart writing.

All in all, I think The Night Owls is one of the best comics to come out of the Zuda project, and it's one of only two Zuda comics I've consistently enjoyed. I'm glad they're on to the second season, and I'm looking forward to seeing where the Timony twins take the agency next.
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Peter Timony said...

Thank you for that awesome review!